And now, speaking of physical necessity, I’m off to IKEA in my online editor Trent’s pickup truck known affectionately (despite its carbon footprint) as ‘Black Thunder.’
Krista Tippett, from her journal on “The Business of Doing Good” with Jonathan Greenblatt
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As I listened to Jonathan Greenblatt's discussion of his work and his "mission", I was left feeling like I had been listening to a manicured and "field-tested" public relations release from a Madison Avenue shop. The bottom line is that this "economic model" depends on consumerism, materialism, and the irrational use of resources to meet its goals. Is it any wonder that the developing world demands that the US "get out of the way" in our unhelpful and obstructionist refusal to deal with our own contribution to global environmental problems? With less than 5% of the world's population, we consume at least 85% (it may even be more by now) of the world's resources. Is there no limit to our selfishness and solipsism? No amount of Madison Avenue sloganeering and jingoism and economic jargon can whitewash (or "green wash", as Krista pointed out) these basic truths.
I was left with more questions that I wish Krista had asked Greenblatt. For example, how is what he does different from the system of philanthropy we have now, where rich companies (grown rich on consumerism) set up foundations to carry out missions of global aid? Surely Greenblatt and others of his economic persuasion derive tax benefits, just as any foundation does, from their donations, stingy as they are (Starbucks donates 5 cents per bottle? Does that measly 4% merit an award, especially if these projects are as life-changing for the recipients as he claims?)
Why can't the projects Greenblatt describes be done without depending on consumerism? He conflates two different concepts: the rightness of the proposition that projects need to be done because people in the world are not enjoying the basic human rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", is a separate issue from how they are financed. His "economic model" causes "consumers", as he so often named his "market", to feel AS IF they are "doing good" by continuing to irrationally consume commodities and resources, and provides a salve and justification for our unsustainable behavior that benefits only the capitalist economic engine of the first world and its multi-national corporations. While many "consumers" may suspect this and feel uneasy about it, Greenblatt's constant use of the mantra "doing good" is like a lullaby that lulls these fretting suspicions into oblivion. Changing the way we "do aid", whether "bottom-up' or "top-down", doesn't depend on capitalism and consumerism, but ends up sounding more like extortion than aid. Greenblatt's irrational message to the poverty-stricken and politically-oppressed people of the world is: if we don't consume, then you don't get water projects. Are they supposed to trade off the first world's increasing contributions to global warming and unsustainable waste of resources for their water projects? Are they not supposed to resent our stubbornness in the face of the ineffectiveness of global environmental summits?
I was frustrated by Greenblatt's penchant for not finishing thoughts or sentences and by the fact that Krista didn't challenge him to follow through. For example, in the discussion of cutting down trees in order to produce his magazine, he didn't explain WHY how subscriptions are financed makes any difference. Whether the money goes to third-world projects or his company's bottom line, the trees are still cut down. Is his argument just too subtle for me to follow? Is this some kind of "carbon credits trading" scheme in his mind (which doesn't lead to any net decrease in pollution, by the way)?
Finally, I was hoping that Krista would ask Greenblatt for numbers and results from the projects he claimed were funded by his company. Did his company fund them 100% or was there funding from other sources? What were the outcomes? Were the projects executed and are they still working? Were they turned over to local control, with training and appropriate technology transfer? Does his company have publicly-available annual reports? How many people have been pulled out of poverty as a result of his projects? How has the health status of the communities improved?
Anne- Two thoughts, the first from a bumper sticker I spied a while back, the second from an old and widely read book of practical wisdom; "Where am I going and what am I doing in a handbasket?", and "Despise not, the day of small beginnings.".
Krista, I hope the IKEA trip went well. I got up to my cabin in Pennsylvania and had a great couple of days myself, reading and writing. I finished reading your book (took lots of notes), Nikolai Grozni's "Turtle Feet: the making and unmaking of a Buddhist monk' (have you read it?) and Michael Lewis's "Moneyball." (In Bethel seminary I appropriated the phrase "recreational reading" to describe the aching need many of us had to read something other than religious books. "Moneyball" certainly qualifies as being off target in seminary.)I have a question for you. What was it that made you want to go to Yale Divinity School? It seems that you zipped from becoming disatisfied with your diplomatic career and stop off in England, to going to Yale. Were you interested in the pastorate? In church academics? To find out about your relationship with God? All of them or none of them" For myself, it was to go into the church ministry but 2 1/2 years later I found that wasn't quite what I wanted to do. So, instead of the M. Div. I wrapped up an M.A. in theological studies about six years after I left the seminary.I enjoy listening to your show. I download it onto my iPod and listen when I have hour-long chunks of time, which doesn't seem to happen often enough. I appreciate hearing the perspective of people whose faith tradition differes so much from my own. Now, unlike Karen Armstrong's "freelancing", I find myself to be more of an ecletic with a strong (though I'm finding not an exclusive) base in Christianity. I don't remember if it was in your book or a recent broadcast, but I agree with the sentiment that "This is the truth that works for me." Thanks for all you do.